Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Batman Issues 1-7 (Court of Owls)

Batman Issues 1-7 (The New 52)
Please Note: These issues were collected in paperback form as Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls (The New 52).
Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Read digitally as separate issues.

Background Information:

When DC rebooted their entire universe in a movement called The New 52, Batman emerged as somewhat the favourite child (although, Green Lantern comes a close second). Don’t believe me? Take it as evidence that, since the 2011 reboot, there has been no less than five canon series; Batman: The Dark Knight focuses on Batman’s villains, Batman: Detective Comics revels in the mystery aspect of the bat’s adventures, Batman and Robin puts the spotlight on the dynamic duo’s adventures (with Bruce Wayne’s son, Damien as Robin), and if anyone can tell me what the point of Batman Incorporated is, I’d be very grateful.

And that’s not even counting the New 52’s spin-off titles; Nightwing, Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman (yes, they’re two different characters), Red Hood and the Outlaws and Batwing all have connections to Batman.

The New 52 series that focuses on the Batman that most are more familiar with is simply titled Batman. This title focuses on the caped crusader as an action hero, which is pretty much the depiction we got from the Dark Knight trilogy.

Did I mention keeping track of Batman books is difficult? Well, it is.


The Court of Owls storyline really seems to have two major goals: prepare readers for the big Night of the Owls crossover event that is set to happen and, more interestingly, destabilise Batman as the man who essentially “owns” Gotham. The story follows Bruce Wayne as he investigates a murder that is connected to a group known as the Court of Owls- a group that until previously had been thought only to exist as old-wives tales. For centuries, writer Scott Snyder tells us, the Owls have been ruling Gotham in secret, acting as judge, jury and executioner for Gotham’s seediest.

Bruce doesn’t believe they exist- he investigated the group years ago and came up with nothing. However, as Bruce takes a fresh look into the Owls, he starts to realise that maybe he knows less about Gotham than he thought.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “this is a Batman story! Where is the Joker? Where’s Two-Face? Where’s Ras Al’Ghul, The Scarecrow, The Riddler, Bane, The Penguin or that angry chick from Dark Knight Rises? Hell, I’ll settle Mr. Freeze; Schwarzenegger puns and all!”

The answer to your question is: they’re in other books. Remember those five different series that I mentioned to you? Well, not all of them can use the Joker at the same time. Thankfully, what readers get instead isn’t a  “fill-in” villain, but a truly terrifying organisation that make the League of Shadows in Batman Begins look like a club for feather-duster wielding four-year-olds.

This, granted, is partially true because Snyder writes them wonderfully. See, the Owls aren’t just another group of ninjas waiting for Batman to kick their respective trashes. Snyder uses them to create real unrest in Batman; playing with his mind and driving him to near insanity. The result is a fairly intense story that breaks Batman both mentally and physically. Remember how much you thought the Joker controlled Gotham in The Dark Knight? The Court of Owls actually ramps it up a notch, and I felt like Batman was starting to believe that he was never winning the fight against crime. Which, when you’ve locked away multiple criminal masterminds, has gotta hurt your ego.

Capullo’s art is fantastic here. The guy draws a near-perfect Batman; giving both him and Gotham that sense of darkness that has now become the standard for a Bat-Story. Sure, some of the action scenes can be a little hard to follow, but I really found that I didn’t care. This wasn’t a story about action scenes (even though there is plenty of it), it was about tragic discoveries and desperate denial, and the artwork really hits home the tragedy that is Batman being blind to reality.

I have only one real gripe with this story. And really, it’s one I brought on myself. See, I read all seven of these issues on my smartphone. It was fine up until I got to issue #5. In that issue, Capullo tries to depict Batman on some sort of hallucinogen. To do so, he plays with the page orientation a bit. Pages are drawn upside-down and sideways as he tries to shake the effect of the drug off. On paper, I’ll bet it looks awesome. On a smart-device, it’s annoying. As you try to turn the device around to read the page, the device insists on making each panel “right way up”, which turns panels back upside-down and sideways again. It’s a small problem, considering the awesomeness of the story, but it’s one that seriously decreased my enjoyment of an otherwise perfect story.

The Court of Owls story-arc is a great beginning for Batman in the New 52, but I would recommend getting it in print. It gets 5 out of 5 feather-duster wielding four-year-olds.


Alternate Pick

Actually, any of the other four Batman series would probably do.  

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